San Diego skies explode with lightning from third electrical storm in less than a month

Lighting strikes the ground near Coronado as seen from Mt. Soledad during a lighting storm.
Lighting strikes the ground near Coronado as seen from Mt. Soledad during a lighting storm on Monday, Oct. 4, 2021.
( K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)
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The system also produces rain, hail, and ignites brush fires

The scattered lightning that popped up in greater San Diego on Monday afternoon exploded into a feverish countywide electrical storm after the sun went down and came with slashing rain and stingy bits of hail that fell from South Park to Escondido.

The lightning also appears to have led to a house fire in Fallbrook and ignited a grove of palm trees near a home in Mount Helix. And San Diego Gas & Electric was reporting outages that exceeded 5,600 on Monday night. The figure had fallen to 1,300 by early Tuesday.

The weather service said before dawn Tuesday that it recorded 564 cloud-to-ground and cloud-to-cloud lighting bolts during the storm. San Diego International Airport received 0.64 inches of rain.

Here’s how much rain fell in 30 greater San Diego County communities

Lightning flashes in the sky above University City on Monday, October 4, 2021.
(Sandy Huffaker/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Lightning also erupted in Los Angeles County, leading to a 35-minute delay of the Los Angeles Chargers home game with the Las Vegas Raiders.

This is the third major round of thunder and lightning to hit San Diego’s coastal areas in less than a month, an extremely rare sequence west of the county’s mountains.

Forecasters say that a milder storm could reach the county on Friday, possibly followed by a third one next Monday.

The new storm was generated by warm, highly unstable air that arrived from Baja California.

The warmth was reflected in the daytime high temperatures. San Diego International Airport reached 84 degrees Monday or about 8 degrees above average.

The system produced only intermittent lightning in the afternoon. But things took off in the evening.

A lightning strike Monday evening ignited a grove of palm trees in the Mount Helix area.
A lightning strike Monday evening ignited a grove of palm trees in the Mount Helix area. Several homes were threatened before firefighters doused the flames.
(Ann Widay )

Residents called 911 as the lightning started several brush fires.

“There are tons of fires right now, up and down the county,” sheriff’s Lt. William Amavisca said.

A report of a fire at a Fallbrook house on Eighth Street turned out to be false, North County Fire Protection District spokesman John Choi said. He said firefighters were given three different addresses of possible structure fires and only one was confirmed.

At one of the homes, firefighters found “a massive amount of candles burning” that residents lit after power was knocked out. That bright orange glow was mistaken for a fire, he said.

An outbuilding on Rainbow Valley Boulevard in Rainbow did catch on fire after a tree was struck by lightning, Choi said.

The North County Fire Protection District said that blaze was extinguished within about 20 minutes, though Rainbow Valley Road remained closed until 11 p.m.

Lighting strikes the ground in north San Diego County with La Jolla in the foreground as seen from Mt. Soledad.
Lighting strikes the ground in north San Diego County with La Jolla in the foreground as seen from Mt. Soledad during a lighting storm on Monday, Oct. 4, 2021.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

A lightning strike also ignited several trees in the Mount Helix area — but heavy rain and firefighters were able to douse the flames before they could reach any homes.

Ann Widay, who was visiting her mother who lives in the area, said she could hear popping sounds and saw flashes of fire in the sky near Challenge Boulevard near Nabal Drive as the fire burned.

San Miguel Battalion Chief Roddey Blunt was driving back from another call when he saw several lightning strikes and then a plume of smoke from a fire ignited by lightning.

Blunt said a grove of 30 to 40 full-grown palm trees were on fire near the intersection of Calavo Drive and Rancho Road. He said the fire was threatening about 15 homes in the area.

Lighting strikes the ground in San Diego as a palm trees burn from a lightning strike in the Morena area.
Lighting strikes the ground in San Diego as a palm trees burn from a lightning strike in the Morena area during storm on Monday, Oct. 4, 2021.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Pouring rain helped to cool the fire as he summoned help. “We have five engines on the fire and we are mopping it up at this time,” Blunt said around 7:45 p.m. He said no homes were damaged.

San Diego firefighters believe a lightning strike likely sparked a blaze on Pacific Highway in Morena. Photos shared online showed a stand of palm trees engulfed in flames that spread to nearby structures, including what appeared to be shipping containers. There was no immediate word on the exact damage, but a San Diego Fire-Rescue Department official said no injuries were reported.

The official said lightning strikes were suspected of starting “a bunch of tree fires” around the city, including one that required a vegetation response, mostly because it was difficult to access.

Lightning hit a palm tree near Jo Rankin’s house on Arnold Avenue near Wightman Street in North Park, and the sound was so loud she thought the windows had cracked.

She said firefighters were quickly on the scene and put the blaze out before it could spread.

“We were in the house in the living room watching television and it scared us to death,” Rankin said. “We thought the windows shattered, it was so loud.”

She said electricity in the area also was knocked out.

Escondido fire officials also reported lightning strikes igniting palm trees in the city, but a spokesman said there were no reports of property damage.

Firefighters with Cal Fire helped extinguish tree fires sparked by lightning strikes in Lakeside, Rancho San Diego, Fallbrook/Deer Springs and Rainbow Glen.

“They were all tree fires, none of them spread to homes,” said Frank LoCoco, a spokesman for Cal Fire San Diego. “They all stayed relatively small.”

LoCoco said because the lightning was coupled with pretty heavy rain, none of the fires spread. “We did have the benefit of pretty substantial rainfall, so hopefully we don’t have any delayed fires. Nothing has been reported as of yet,” he said early Tuesday.

Staff writer Alex Riggins contributed to this report.

Updates

9:22 a.m. Oct. 5, 2021: This story was updated with additional details.